Could the signaling be more incoherent? The hearing suggests both that unknown horrors loom and that we should shrink the most visible federal security agency.
Lace up your shoes, America—we’re goin’ swimmin’!
Our federal politicians still can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that terrorism is a far smaller threat than we believed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and that the threat has waned since then. (The risk of attack will never be zero, but terrorism is far down on the list of dangers Americans face.)
The good news is that the public’s loathing for the TSA is just as persistent as stated terrorism fears. This at least constrains congressional leaders to make gestures toward controlling the TSA. Perhaps we’ll get a “smarter, leaner” overreaction to fear.
Public opprobrium is a constraint on the growth and intrusiveness of the TSA, so I was delighted to see a new project from the folks at We Won’t Fly. Their new project highlights the fact that the TSA has still failed to begin the process for taking public comments on the policy of using Advanced Imaging Technology (strip-search machines) at U.S. airports, even though the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered it more than a year ago.
The project is called TSAComment.com, and they’re collecting comments because the TSA won’t.
The purpose of TSAComment.com is to give a voice to everyone the TSA would like to silence. There are many legitimate health, privacy and security-related concerns with the TSA’s adoption of body scanning technology in US airports. The TSA deployed these expensive machines without holding a mandatory public review period. Even now they resist court orders to take public comments.
TSAComment.com has gotten nearly 100 comments since the site went up late yesterday, and they’re going to deliver those comments to TSA administrator John Pistole, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the media.
The D.C. Circuit Court did require TSA to explain why it has not carried out a notice-and-comment rulemaking on the strip-search machine policy, and assumedly it will rule before too long.
Getting the TSA to act within the law is important not only because it is essential to have the rule of law, but because the legal procedures TSA is required to follow will require it to balance the costs and benefits of its security measures articulately and carefully. Which is to say that security policy will be removed somewhat from the political realm and our incoherent politicians and moved more toward the more rational, deliberative worlds of law and risk management.
Hope springs eternal, anyway…
There could be no better tribute to the victims of 9/11 than by continuing to live free in our great country. I won’t shrink from that goal. The people at TSAComment do not shrink from that goal. And hopefully you won’t either.
It also blames the fact that there had been "significant personnel losses" in the group of folks responsible for obeying the order, but insisted that everyone else in that group was really (really!) focused on obeying the order, and they'd get around to it at some point. Really. They promise.
Petitioner offers no basis whatsoever for its assertion that TSA has delayed in
implementing this Court’s mandate. On the contrary, as the Sammon Declaration
demonstrates, TSA has been keenly aware of the importance of implementing the
Court’s directive, and has given high priority to the AIT rulemaking. Despite
“significant personnel losses” in the group of economists within TSA charged with completing the regulatory analysis... the agency began on the heels of the
Court’s ruling the process of preparing the documents necessary for notice-andcomment
rulemaking, and has devoted almost all of the staff available to conduct the
required economic analysis to its expedited completion, even going so far as to hire
contract consultants to accelerate its completion despite unforeseen personnel losses
Later, it claims:
In sum, there has been no "waiting" and no "delay."
Other than the fact that we're still waiting, you mean?
The TSA's "behavior detection" program continues to roll out, unimpeded by accusations of racial profiling or the fact that 725,000 travelers have been questioned without turning up a single terrorist. This extra step in the ongoing, ever-expanding War at Home on Terror is bringing the fun of living in a dictatorship to the unsuspecting citizens of a federal republic.
Traveling into or out of the country used to be the one of the few situations in which American citizens could expect extra questions to be thrown their way. Apparently, we're now defending internal borders to prevent terrorists from crossing state lines unimpeded. In addition to long-running security theatrics already in place at our nations' airports, TSA agents are now throwing a barrage of instrusive questions at flyers as they travel from state to state.
The agent then turned to me with grin that was a bit perky for even my taste given the early hour. "So where are you folks off to?" he energetically inquired.
I like to think that I'm a friendly person, so I answered him, expecting a brief innocuous exchange about the Washington DC heat and the scourge of Capitol Hill gridlock. Instead, the agent responded to my answer with a barrage of questions about where in Vermont we had stayed, how long we had traveled, and why we had traveled there. I could feel a suspicious expression involuntarily creep across my face. The New Englander inside me was screaming "you don't know this person from a hole in the wall and you certainly don't want to divulge to him the details of your family vacation!" And yet it seemed that the more discomfort I expressed, the more persistent the agent's questioning became, following us down the line, grilling me unrelentingly about our vacation plans and baggage status.
Maybe the TSA agent was just being friendly? The writer's husband suggested as much. Despite the fact that the word "friendly" has rarely, if ever, been used in the same sentence as "TSA agent," there's always the small possibility that it's just some welcome humanity showing through the officious facade.
Here's the problem, though. It's nearly impossible for the average human being to chat normally with someone who has the power to indefinitely detain or otherwise screw up their travel plans for any number of nebulous "violations." There's no such thing as an innocuous or friendly question when it comes to an agency with a reputation for acting irresponsibly, vindictively and ignorantly, depending on the situation. No one is ever going to feel comfortable just handing out additional personal information, no matter how anecdotal, to someone who can use any misstep as an excuse to search, detain or otherwise inconvenience anyone and everyone.
At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids.
"I'm headed home," I replied.
Then she wanted to know where home was. That's when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag. I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security "pilot program."
I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn't breaking any laws. That's all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn't going to share any more. Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.
At that point the agent yelled out, "We have another refusal." One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials.
I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience.
Notice how quickly asserting your rights gets you branded as a troublemaker by those "protecting" the airport. The intrusive questioning is the TSA's "behavior detection" at work. So far, it seems to be best at detecting racists within the TSA's ranks and maintaining an overly-close relationship with other law enforcement agencies.
This interrogation of citizens who have never crossed a border isn't necessarily a new thing, but in the past it was definitely an exception rather than the rule. Crossing national borders would usually result in some form of questioning beyond "Are you an American citizen?" Outside of our airports, the Department of Homeland Security is partnering with the Border Patrol to set up checkpoints with the intent of stopping and searching vehicles traveling internal highways 40-50 miles from any border crossing. This falls within the "Constitution Free Zone" where the courts have permitted these "administrative" checkpoints to operate, but solely for the purpose of protecting the nation's borders. They are not to be used for other law enforcement purposes, like conducting general drug searches.
As can be expected, the checkpoints have become "general purpose." Suspicionless searches are now the norm, with many drivers being routed to the "secondary" for additional questioning. None of this is necessary, useful or even particularly legal, but they continue to operate simply because US citizens are generally cooperative, even when their rights are being violated. If you don't cooperate with your own violation, as in the case with Gunn above, and the video below, the ones doing the violating (under the auspices of "security") treat the assertive citizen like he's being unreasonable and possibly a threat.
While the US is far from an actual police state, the encroachment on our rights shows no sign of abating. The TSA defends its severely flawed "behavior detection" system as being a crucial and useful part of law enforcement as a whole. Defenders of DHS checkpoints are quick to cite criminal actions by non-citizens and the general hazy threat of "terrorism" in support of their activities. No one really expects anyone in power to say "Wait, this is going too far," and start rolling back authority and legislation. But someone in power should really start questioning why it became acceptable in this country, a nation built on individual freedom, to interrogate citizens simply because they're traveling from one internal destination to another by vehicle.
While we were just discussing an accusation against the TSA for racial profiling (GASP!), did you know that they were also the official state-sponsored fashion and humor police? I mean, who couldn't see these guys adjudicating your local fashion show?
TSA uniforms: like Michael Jackson, but creepier Image Source. CC BY-SA 2.0
Back in 2007, I designed a shirt for Woot! that featured a screaming eagle clutching an unlaced shoe and a crushed water bottle, surrounded by the motto MOISTURE BOMBS ZOMG TERRORISTS ZOMG GONNA KILL US ALL ZOMG ZOMG ALERT LEVEL BLOODRED RUN RUN TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. Among the lucky owners of this garment is Arijit "Poop Strong" Guha, who proudly wore it this week as he headed for a Delta flight from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to his home in Phoenix.
But it was not to be. First, the TSADelta agents questioned him closely about the shirt, and made him agree to change it, submit to a secondary screening and board last. He complied with these rules, but then he was pulled aside by multiple Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority cops, more TSA, and a Delta official and searched again.
Apparently the new terror plot is to make you laugh so hard your face explodes
Now, I'll restate it again, Arijit had already gone through the TSA screening when he and his wife were then approached by Delta employees at the gate who informed him that he had committed the crime of making other passengers "uncomfortable". When Arijit informed the Delta employees that he was wearing the shirt specifically to mock the security theater we call an airport these days, he was put through another round of screening at the gate by several TSA and local agents and then told that he would be allowed to board. The Delta pilot, catching wind of this, requested Arijit not be allowed to board, because laughter would not be tolerated on his enormous hunk of flying metal. Oh, and they also refused to allow his wife to board the plane too. No reason was apparently given for this, but I'm guessing there may have been some plaid mixing with pin-stripes in her outfit, and the pilot found it to be lacking in fabulousness.
“Certainly he wasn’t implying that dark-skinned people are not real Americans and that white people are the only true Americans,” Arijit writes in part of his snark-filled synopsis. “Fortunately, Mark’s request was denied. Apparently, someone at NFTA recognized this bigoted meathead for the bigoted meathead he was and that nationality is simply a concept that exists solely on paper and cannot be discerned from just looking at someone.”
And yet he still wasn't allowed on the plane. Was it because of his t-shirt? Was it because the motherfucking eagle on it caused concern amongst passengers? Or, as has been previously accused, was it because too many TSA agents find brown-skinned people suspicious and alarming?
The NY Times had an article recently about accusations of racial profiling by the TSA at Boston's Logan airport. There's apparently a pilot program going on at the airport to do more "behavior detection" with the TSA. This is the security model that is often associated with Israel's airport security, and which some have argued should be adopted in a more widespread fashion. Others have pointed out problems with such a system, including the fact that without significant training, "behavior detection" reverts quite quickly to "racial profiling." That appears to be the case in Boston.
Furthermore, two years ago, Bruce Schneier reasonably pointed out that behavioral profiling did not seem very good at finding terrorists, but did uncover criminal behavior unrelated to airplane security:
It seems pretty clear that the program only catches criminals, and no terrorists. You'd think there would be more important things to spend $200 million a year on.
Again, that seems to be what's happening in Boston, as the efforts have turned up some criminal behavior. And, apparently, that's by design. Because buried deep within the NY Times article was this tidbit:
Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.
[....] The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies.
The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.
In other words, TSA managers -- apparently in an effort to make the program look good to superiors -- are putting pressure on TSA line agents to turn up exactly what Schneier suggested: some form of criminal behavior just to make the program look good. That's leading lazy TSA agents to just focus on doing searches of minorities, as they believe that they're more likely to find some sort of criminal activity completely unrelated to airplane security.
Beyond the blatant problems of racial profiling, some of the news here highlights a potentially larger problem with airport searches. As Julian Sanchez points out, the comments above suggest not just that the focus is on criminal behavior rather than security, but also that there's a quota system in place.
That could present a serious legal problem for the basis of TSA searches. After all, a series of lawsuits that established the legality of TSA airport searches focused on the fact that they were specifically designed to keep airplanes (and those on board them) safe rather than to uncover criminal activity. An excellent summary article on BoardingArea.com explains the cases that made such searches legal. Here's a snippet that covers some of the key points:
In 1973 the 9th Circuit Court rules on U.S. vs Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908, there are key pieces of wording that give the TSA its power to search essentially any way they choose to. The key wording in this ruling includes “noting that airport screenings are considered to be administrative searches because they are conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme, where the essential administrative purpose is to prevent the carrying of weapons or explosives aboard aircraft.”
U.S. vs Davis goes onto to state “[an administrative search is allowed if] no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, confined in good faith to that purpose, and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly.”
U.S. vs Davis was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court in 1986 in U.S. vs Pulido-Baquerizo, 800 F.2d 899, 901 with this ruling “To judge reasonableness, it is necessary to balance the right to be free of intrusion with society’s interest in safe air travel.”
Except... as the case in Boston shows, the searches are going well beyond that "essential administrative purpose," and are now being used for general law enforcement. It's at that point that they clearly violate the 4th Amendment, as they're creating general law enforcement searches without proper cause or warrants. It seems that someone who was searched in Boston under these conditions could now make a pretty reasonable constitutional case that the search didn't just violate their private rights, but that the entire TSA setup -- when designed to search for criminal behavior -- has gone beyond the limits established by the courts, and now violates the 4th Amendment.
from the we're-the-gov't,-we-can-ignore-stuff dept
About a year ago, we wrote about a court ruling that the TSA's naked scanners were legal (they didn't violate the 4th Amendment's restriction on "unreasonable" searches), but that the TSA failed to hold the proper public hearings before buying and deploying them. The TSA appears to have only paid attention to the first part. After a bunch of folks asked why the TSA was ignoring the order for public hearings, now an appeals court has officially weighed in and demanded to know why the TSA has failed to hold public hearings more than a year after that court ruling. The order is pretty straightforward:
ORDERED that the Department of Homeland Security, et al., respond to the
petition on or before August 30, 2012.
The TSA has said that it would hold hearings "next year" (or two years after it was ordered to do so). You would think that it wouldn't take the TSA two years to set up basic hearings -- especially while it has continued to roll out a variety of new scanning machines...
A few months ago, you may have heard about John Brennan, who was going through Portland International Airport, and felt that the TSA screening procedures were the equivalent of harassing him. In response, to protest, he stripped naked... and was promptly arrested for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure. However, a court has now acquitted Brennan by saying that the stripping was an act of public protest, and thus protected by the First Amendment. The judge pointed out that there's already state precedent in Oregon that anti-nudity laws "do not apply in cases of protest."
"It is the speech itself that the state is seeking to punish, and that it cannot do," Circuit Judge David Rees said.
The DA who prosecuted the case is complaining that now anyone arrested for indecent exposure can just claim that it's a protest.
Deputy District Attorney Joel Petersen argued that Brennan only spoke of a protest minutes later. Petersen urged the judge to recognize that distinction, "otherwise any other person who is ever naked will be able to state after the fact" that it was done in protest.
Of course, this now raises the troubling (or appealing, depending on your nature) idea that stripping at the front of the TSA line may become more popular. That said, if you're now... er... itching to disrobe in front of the TSA, it's worth noting that this ruling is specific to Oregon, and who knows how other states might deal with the same issue.
Well this is very disappointing. My own Congressional Representative, has put forth a bill, HR 3140 to expand TSA info sharing capabilities to mass transit. Because that's just what we need. Even worse, in speaking about it, Speier doesn't seem to even recognize that there's a problem with the TSA at airports, and seems to assume that it's just obvious that everything's great with airport security:
"We have put in place through TSA a very elaborate system [in airports]. We all go through those metal detectors and those secondary searches. And we've put a lot of focus on the airlines for good reason. But we have neglected the mass transit components, generally speaking," she said.
Speier said 2 million people fly each day, compared with more than 5 million who ride the subway each day in New York City alone. She pointed out that the most recent terrorist attacks have been on mass transit. Also, when U.S. Special Forces raided Osama Bin Laden's compound last year, intelligence gathered revealed the next attack was intended for mass transit.
"The writing is on the wall. We need to be better prepared than we are right now," Speier said.
I'm all for keeping trains safe from terrorists. I ride on trains all the time -- including a Caltrain that has been named after Jackie Speier (I'm not joking). But any approach that suggests the current TSA efforts are somehow reasonable and should be expanded -- without even offering any evidence that this is true -- is a serious mistake.
The House Oversight Committee has come out with a report slamming the TSA for tremendous amounts of waste, specifically in the "deployment and storage" of its scanning equipment. Basically, it sounds like the TSA likes to go on giant spending sprees, buying up security equipment and then never, ever using it. A few data points
As of February 15, 2012, the total value of TSA’s equipment in storage was, according to TSA officials, estimated at $184 million. However, when questioned by Committee staff, TSA’s warehouse staff and procurement officials were unable to provide the total value of equipment in storage.
Committee staff discovered that 85% of the approximately 5,700 major transportation security equipment currently warehoused at the TLC had been stored for longer than six months; 35% of the equipment had been stored for more than one year. One piece of equipment had been in storage more than six years – 60% of its useful life.
As of February 2012, Committee staff discovered that TSA had 472 Advanced Technology 2 (AT2) carry-on baggage screening machines at the TLC and that more than 99% have remained in storage for more than nine months; 34% of AT2s have been stored for longer than one year.
TSA knowingly purchased more Explosive Trace Detectors (ETDs) than were necessary in order to receive a bulk discount under an incorrect and baseless assumption that demand would increase. TSA management stated: “[w]e purchased more than we needed in order to get a discount.”
Oh yeah, and it appears that the TSA isn't very good at tracking this stuff. When asked about the total cost of managing this equipment, the TSA was unable to provide an answer. And then it appeared to willfully mislead Congress about this:
TSA intentionally delayed Congressional oversight of the Transportation Logistics Center and provided inaccurate, incomplete, and potentially misleading information to Congress in order to conceal the agency’s continued mismanagement of warehouse operations.
TSA willfully delayed Congressional oversight of the agency’s Transportation Logistics Center twice in a failed attempt to hide the disposal of approximately 1,300 pieces of screening equipment from its warehouses in Dallas, Texas, prior to the arrival of Congressional staff.
TSA potentially violated 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1001, by knowingly providing an inaccurate warehouse inventory report to Congressional staff that accounted for the disposal of equipment that was still in storage at the TLC during a site visit by Congressional staff.
TSA provided Congressional staff with a list of disposed equipment that falsely identified disposal dates and directly contradicted the inventory of equipment in the Quarterly Warehouse Inventory Report provided to Committee staff on February 13, 2012.
One of the theories that was floated a few years ago when there was that big rush to rollout the nudie scanners, was that much of it was being driven by fear mongering from former government officials, like Michael Chertoff, who had economic relationships with the makers of the equipment. This report doesn't confirm any of that, but it sure seems to fit that narrative pretty perfectly. Fear monger away, have the TSA buy a ton of questionable equipment it doesn't actually need, and then have much of that equipment just sit in a warehouse. All on the taxpayers' dime.
A leaked internal report by Homeland Security has revealed what most people already knew: that its new (expensive) nudie scanners have vulnerabilities that could let things through. This is hardly a surprise. We've written about previous claims including a pretty detailed research report highlighting the vulnerabilities. In fact, it seems pretty crazy that the TSA is finally starting to take notice now. What's really the most galling, of course, is that plenty of people have been pointing out these kinds of vulnerabilities for a while and the TSA did nothing. It's just that now, as the vulnerabilities are finally getting press attention, that the TSA starts to pretend to take these things seriously, rather than admitting the truth: they're there for show more than anything else.
Rikuo: lol reading the Amazon reviews for Persona 4 Arena and there's what can only be a troll he's written 1 star reviews for a bunch of games, that barely describe the games and constantly insults his readers oh and admits in many of them to having never played the games WOAH WOAH WOAH, hold the phone Mabel! Getting paid to write fanfiction???? http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57585662-93/amazons-kindle-worlds-will-pay-writers-to-write-fan-fiction/?part=rss&subj=news&tag=title Okay reading up on it now - points to consider Amazon will own the copyrights to all work submitted and there's a myriad of content you can't write - like porn...which of course brings to mind "What if someone writes the next Fifty Shades of Grey?" http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_375976362_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1001197431&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=13RH3W40DD6TV86AEN1D&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_p=1549889182&pf_rd_i=1001197421 silverscarcat: *tilts head* ... I don't think they'd sell my fanfic. It's not yet complete and it's over 300 chapters long. Rikuo: you've got one? Cool, link please? another point is that Amazon will only accept works set in pre-approved worlds. So if the original author says no, then no fanfic publishing for you. Which kinda pisses me off, since it basically says the original author can say who is and is not a fan Christopher Best: Well, they own their creation. They may not be able to stop you from creating fanfic, but they can put a kibosh on selling it for profit I can understand why Amazon wouldn't want to be constantly dragged into federal court to defend itself on fair use grounds... Rikuo: I know but it still pisses me off. If you're going to monetise fanfics, let everyone in, let the crap ones crash and burn, while those with quality writing rise to the top.